Ringworm in Pets: A Fungus Who Wants to be a Worm

Ringworm in pets, or dermatophytosis, is not actually a worm at all!  It is a fungal skin infection that can affect many mammals such as dogs, cats and humans.  There are several species of dermatophytes, which are types of fungus that can cause this infection. 

The incubation period of dermatophytosis is 1-4 weeks.  This means that it may take that long between exposure to the infection and actually developing lesions.  Some animals, cats especially, can act as carriers.  These animals carry the fungal spores in their fur but may never develop lesions.

The most common skin lesion resulting from dermatophytosis is hair loss in a localized area which may be patchy or circular.  You may also see scales, scabs, redness and darkening of skin.  The lesions may or may not be itchy.  Not all exposure results in an infection.  Animals and humans who have a suppressed immune system due to illness, human or feline AIDS, other skin infections or periods of stress are more at risk of developing lesions.

Diagnosis of dermatophytosis is tricky.  In a small percentage of cases, a special light called a Wood’s Lamp may confirm infection.  Examining the hairs under the microscope may aid in diagnosis.  A fungal culture of the hairs around the lesion may also help confirm the diagnosis, however, no method is highly accurate.

As for ringworm treatment, the good news is, in healthy adult animals and humans, the infection often clears on it’s own in 4-6 weeks time.  If the lesions are extensive or persistent, topical creams or rinses may be used.  In more severe cases, anti-fungal tablets may be prescribed.  Humans can catch ringworm from infected or carrier animals.  If you own a pet that you suspect has dermatophytosis, it is important to practice very good hygiene, such as thorough hand-washing after handling the pet, and regular washing of bedding.

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